IPIB: Records law applies to gov’t officials’ use of private devices

The Iowa Public Information Board has issued an important reminder to government officials and employees that Iowa’s public records law still applies to their use of personal computers and personal cellphones for government business.

The reminder comes at a time when many officials are working from home and not from their government offices.

Here’s the text of the IPIB statement:

Question:  If an email, a report, or other document is composed, received, or stored on a personally owned cell phone, tablet, laptop, or other electronic device while a government employee is working remotely, is that a public record under Chapter 22?

Answer: Yes.  If a government official or employee uses privately owned electronic devices or services, such as cell phones, computers, email accounts, smart phones, or such to conduct official government business, then the record generated is a public record.

When the document concerns public business relating to public duties of an official or employee,  it is a public record.  Recent years have shown a rapid explosion in electronic device ownership, making it easy to start a project at work, fine tune it at home, email drafts to colleagues and others, refine it on the work computer, carry it around the world on a flash drive, or store it indefinitely in ‘the cloud.’  Because of this ease of portability and expansion of the work site, the term “public records” no longer refers to a document in a paper file in a drawer in an office.

And, if the government official or employee is working remotely using personal electronic equipment, this may be the only way to access the public record unless it is shared and stored at the official government office.

Remember:  A public record does not lose its public status by being retained on a privately owned electronic device.